Real Estate Freedom, At Long Last

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When I moved out of the family home and listed it for sale, I had absolutely no idea that it would take almost an entire year to sell.  Well, it took 10 and a half months.  The sales price was $26,000 lower than the initial list price, we gave the buyers $5,000 in closing cost credit on top of that and paid more than $23,000 in fees and commissions. Absolutely everyone from the buyers’ agent to the title company took a big bite out of our apple.  Here’s the ugly truth.

Our first offer came in less than two weeks after the house hit the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and was for $5,000 above asking price.  I hadn’t even had a chance to have the carpets cleaned at that point (the winter holiday gift-giving extravaganza was well underway and I ran out of time).  Unfortunately, that deal fell through and also gave us the insane idea that we* didn’t need to do anything else to make the house attractive to buyers.

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

For three months, we endured the nastiest feedback I’d ever heard about the house. We received at least a half dozen very low-ball offers, all citing the terrible condition of the house.  I finally had the entire interior repainted, all the carpet and tile cleaned, and replaced all the faucets (upgrading from the crappy builder grade stuff).  I also had the fridge removed and painted the pantry shelves.

Then we received no feedback at all, but still got really low offers.  Apparently real estate is something that lives by the creed, “If you can’t say something negative, don’t say anything at all.”

We lowered the price three times.  We accepted three or four offers out of the dozens we received and opened escrow three times (I think, it’s become a blur of disappointment and aggravation).

One thing that really stood out was that no one offered our list price in their first communication.  Most of the offers were a solid $20,000 or more under our reduced asking price and then would negotiate up to list price or would fizzle out. Since we’d been in escrow multiple times, the house had been appraised multiple times and we knew the value. The house was priced accordingly.  Buyers’ agents knew this and still wrote appallingly low offers.  It was a huge waste of time.

It felt like everyone was out to get a steal of a deal.  It made me as a seller feel like I was being robbed.  And who volunteers to be robbed?

Another thing that was astonishing were the neighborhood comparables.  Buyers’ agents routinely ignored valid comps and used the ones that would support their buyers’ desired price — meaning the comps were for homes that were appreciably smaller.  Like we wouldn’t notice?

At the very end of the process, we had multiple offers.  One of those offers was a VA buyer, who predictably offered $35,000 under list price and demanded $8,000 in closing cost assistance from us.  This was the same routine we saw from every single VA buyer.

You know who we didn’t sell the house to?  A VA buyer.  Between the price concessions, the closing cost concessions, and the realtor commissions, those buyers were asking us to pay or lose upwards of $65,000.  As a buyer, at some point you’ve got to ask yourself, “Would I pay $65,000 of someone else’s real estate costs?”

No, you wouldn’t.

That final VA offer included neighborhood comps, too.  The agent cited a home right around the corner which was built by the same developer and had similar square footage.  It was priced $50,000 less than our house.

Want to know why?

Half the rooms were painted black and there was dog feces all over the floors and carpets.

Hmmm, is that a valid comp to a freshly cleaned and painted home that’s move-in ready?

The family who bought our house and finally closed escrow had their own share of market-related insanity to deal with in selling their old home.  That difficulty dragged escrow out, but was ultimately worth it.  They have three young children and this is exactly the house for them to grow up in.  I hope they have many happy and healthy years there.

It’s safe to say that I’m relieved the house has sold.  I may be even more relieved to be out of the real estate game.  It’s rigged.

 

*When I say “we” I’m referring to myself and my realtor-friend.  Voldemort was pretty much invisible throughout this entire process.  In fact, my realtor-friend has never met him in person or even spoken to him on the phone.  They interacted via email exclusively.

Meet The Neighbors

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We’ve been living in our townhouse for about 10 months and, despite my misgivings about the size, it’s a perfect fit. The neighbors are interesting, too. Let me introduce a few:

The Vampire Gardener
This guy lives over the fence to the left of my back porch. In early Spring, I was awoken by the weirdest snick-snick sound from outside around midnight and rolled over to look out the window. There in the light of the moon was the Vampire Gardener, pruning his backyard bushes while wearing a bathrobe and sweatpants.

Since then, he’s made two more appearances to garden in the middle of the night. I’ve never seen him when the sun’s up.

Yakusa and His Pitbull
The couple whose back porch is directly behind mine share their home with a pitbull. The guy is covered in tattoos. The dog is named Rambo. The woman rarely speaks. I give the three of them a wide berth.

The Hoarders
Sandwiched in between the vampire gardener and the possible gangbanger are the hoarders. Their yard had the most enormous ficus trees I’d ever seen. One tree had grown over a portion of our shared back fence and provided the perfect shade cover for The Hydrangea That Wouldn’t Die. Earlier this summer, some guys showed up and chopped the ficus trees down while the head hoarder watched.

I thought maybe they were cleaning up the yard in preparation for a makeover or a move. Nope. The removal of the trees not only took away much-needed shade cover, it exposed all the broken plastic storage tubs strewn around their yard. Then they put something lumpy out there and covered it with a huge red tarp.

I don’t even want to know what’s under that tarp.

Creepy Santa
At the end of the block, right by my assigned parking space and the mailboxes, lives a retired man with white hair and a white goatee. He also has a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, whether he’s laughing or not. One evening in August, I was coming home from a walk while he was leaving in his car. He stopped the car and loudly said to me, “The Arab market has lamb shoulder on sale for $2.99. Do you know how to cook it?”

(Ummm, what? I didn’t even know there was an Arab market nearby. And WTF, dude? I’m female and therefore genetically programmed with all food preparation knowledge?)

I answered, “No, sorry, I’m vegetarian.” Then power-walked my ass home.

A month later, he pounced on me when I went to pick up the mail and I got roped into neighborly chit-chat which included Creepy Santa’s thoughts on custody agreements: “I hold dual citizenship and told my ex that if she didn’t agree to a reasonable financial settlement, I’d take the kids to Peru and she’d never see them again.”

Followed by a dissertation on how much he loves “those scallops wrapped in bacon and a thick steak,” which led to, “Let me take you out to dinner.”

“No, thank you. I’m vegetarian.”

“Oh, you’re that one.”

Ick.

The Great Walenda

This guy lives next door to Yakusa and Rambo. I met him on Mother’s Day, which he spent standing on the common fence in plastic flip-flops, tearing down a 20 foot tall palm tree with (I kid you not) a Sawsall.

At first, I was worried about his safety, but as the noise-filled day dragged on, I began to root for the palm tree.

I’ve met a few seemingly normal people, and as a bonus, there’s even a Girl Scout right across the street which was handy during Cookie Season. Most of the things I worried about before moving here turned out just fine. But I forgot about the possibility of weirdo neighbors in rather close quarters. At least they’re generally quiet. At night. Mostly.

This Old Dog & New Tricks

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I’m almost two months into my community college “Elementary Algebra” course and I’m killing it. I’ve got a cumulative 92% and actually scored 100% on my quiz last week.

Go, me!

The class meets four hours a week and I spend more than 20 hours a week on homework and studying for tests. It’s a part-time job.

A part-time job that gives me headaches and makes me swear at my laptop.

One of the coolest and most convenient changes since I was last in college (way back in 1986) is that the curriculum is online. No lie. We use MathXL for homework and it is awesome. Problems are graded instantly and there are multiple explanations for why you’re wrong, you dingbat.

My only issue is that sometimes when I click for help, MathXL tells me to start solving the problem by [whatever] and I have no idea how to do [whatever] which is why I asked for help, you infernal program from the depths of hell.

Otherwise, it’s great.

Plus, my instructor is amazing. She’s pragmatic, doggedly determined that her students succeed, and funny.

I’ve learned a lot about acceptance. It’s never made any sense to me that multiplying two negative numbers makes a positive number. I used to get so caught up in the not-making-sense that I stopped listening to whatever came next. Now I just accept it as a rule and move on. Millions of math students accept two negatives make a positive, I’m just gonna join that crowd. Screw it.

We’re currently learning to graph equations in a rectangular coordinate system. I’m deeply apathetic about this endeavor, but the only way past it is through it, so on I go. Rather than resist, I accept and keep plodding (or plotting, if you’ve had to do this kind of problem solving!) along.

I’ve found that I’m practically a savant with word problems. I actually prefer word problems to strings of numbers, which is really no surprise. Barb wants to know if that wallpaper border remnant on sale will be enough for the perimeter of her guest room? I’m her mathematical girl. Joe wants to build a dog run and needs to figure out the amount of fencing to buy? I got this.

The exception to my word problem brilliance is the planes, trains, and automobiles questions. You remember this crap: two trains leave Chicago going in opposite directions, traveling at different speeds, how long until they’re 798 miles apart? (These are called uniform motion problems and they suck. Plus, I just can’t work up any give a damn for them.) I spent hours and hours trying to master these and they still make my head swim.

It also turns out that math is actually pretty nonjudgmental. There’s a name for an equation which has a solution like this: 4=23. I thought that name was “wrong” or “damn it, I have to start over.” Nope. It’s called a contradiction. Crazy, right?

The transcript evaluator from the University called last week to request a fresh copy of my first college transcript as the one she had from 1980 on microfiche was unreadable. She had some tentatively bad news and I’m probably looking at three college level algebra classes (and G*d only knows what else). I hope there are lots and lots of word problems.

The Great Sticky Note Crisis of 2014

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Or maybe texting isn’t as awesome as I thought.

Friday was the last day of kid #3’s classes before Fall break. This is part and parcel of the modified year-round school schedule here where kids start school in late July and get a two-week break in late September.

No, it doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to take a break just when they’re getting acclimated to showing up at school sometime between 7 and 8am five days a week. It’s like that ridiculous math rule that multiplying two negatives makes a positive, it just has to be accepted despite all arguments to the contrary.

Most weekday mornings my house resembles either a convent where the inhabitants have all taken a vow of silence, or a zoo filled with angry, snarling animals.

Friday it was a zoo. #3 snarled and snapped at me for no reason I could discern. I can usually act like a mature adult around this surliness, but I was in no mood for that sh*t. I don’t exactly rejoice in making someone a hot breakfast before dawn. And this week was no fun at all, so I may have muttered a nasty word at her, mostly under my breath.

Not a stellar start.

I got her dropped off at the usual place, at the usual time just as the sun was rising. (I’m really done with this already.)

At 9:52am, I received this text from #3:

“Mom I need transparent sticky notes STAT”

(My very first thought was: WTF? It’s the last day before a two week break, how important can transparent sticky notes be? Followed by: Does she seriously expect me to careen over to the nearest office supply store, purchase said sticky notes, and deliver them to the school office?)

I responded:

“What do you want me to do?”

Her reply:

“Please get some or else my book will be litered with nON TRANSPARENT STICKIES”

No joke, ya’ll, that’s the exact text. Ignoring, if we can, the spelling error and dramatic capitalization, I discerned that this was a) an issue in her accelerated English class (which I sincerely hope covers spelling), and b) not an actual sticky note emergency.

I assured her I would pick some up while I was out running errands. So in between finding a Fed Ex drop-off place (harder than I expected because they all moved when I wasn’t looking) at which to deposit the latest round of escrow papers on the House That Is Taking Forever To Sell; swinging by the post office to mail an escrow form to my divorce lawyer — because parties to a divorce can’t do anything without their lawyers’ involvement, thus generating more fees for her kids’ college funds; going to the grocery store and the home improvement store, I skittered into Office Depot.

The fresh-faced young man at the door asked if he could help me and I shoved my damn phone in his face, demanding he tell me where they kept the transparent sticky notes.  His reply, “I’m not sure we have transparent ones.”

Are you serious? Am I hunting nematoads, for crying out loud?

He escorted me to the sticky note aisle, awash in a sea of neon colors, and I proceeded to find and capture the last three packs of transparent sticky notes in the store (and at four bucks a pop, she better use them wisely).

Honestly, now that I know what to look for, I can keep a supply on hand from Amazon.

Of course, now that I have a plan, she’ll never need another transparent sticky note in her life.

Six Weeks In, When’s Graduation?

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‘Round these parts, the school districts follow a “modified” year round schedule. That means, loosely, eight weeks of classes followed by a two week break. Rinse and repeat. Except there’s a week off for Thanksgiving, three weeks off for Winter break, and five or six weeks off for summer. It’s random.

The school day runs from 7:10 am until 2:15 pm, except for minimum days when it’s 7:38 am to 12:21 pm or Pro Hour days when it’s 8:00 am to 2:18 pm. Confused? Yeah, I’m starting a club for that.

My youngest child, kid #3, started high school on July 23. We went over and registered her the week before. Picked her classes and everything. She even went to the Freshman Orientation that week. Imagine her surprise when she showed up the first day of school and no one could find her schedule. She spent four hours in the cafeteria with all the other kids nobody knew what to do with.

But they found her schedule just in time for her final class of the day. The next day was bound to be better, right?

Nope. The next day began the great iPad Issuing Debacle and resulted in the first of many, many robocalls I’ve received from the school about unexcused tardies and absences. None of these calls has been accurate, and I did check. Extensively. The CIA has nothing on my mom interrogation techniques.

Well, the start of every new thing can often be rocky, so day three just had to be less chaotic. No again, my friends. The school went into lockdown due to an armed robbery at a nearby business.

At this point, I seriously considered yanking kid #3 out of public school and moving to Amish country. Or something. But she was making friends and seemed unfazed by the nearby gun-play.

And things have smoothed out, mostly.

I continue to receive robocalls from the school about phantom tardies and absences. Kid #3 goes to the teacher(s) and the office to get them straightened out. I’m also informed via robocall from the school of the local police department’s enforcement of its zero tolerance policy on underage drinking whenever there’s a concert at the nearby amphitheater. I really had no idea there were so many concerts in our city.

And I naively assumed the police would enforce the zero tolerance policy on underage drinking on non-concert days, y’know, follow the law.

Live and learn.

Every single call from the school is followed up with an email containing an imbedded audio file of the phone call. This school has really taken “the more you know” to heart.

Back to School Night was two weeks ago and I finally got to see the classrooms and meet the teachers. I was impressed by their professionalism and caring, although the geography and math teachers seemed really beaten down by their students’ inability to follow simple directions, and who can blame them? Their procedures sounded simple and straightforward, but are apparently beyond the ken of 14-year olds.

The math teacher also had the unhappy task of informing the (incredibly few) parents who showed up that most of the kids were going to get failing grades in the first reporting period for reasons I found a bit vague. Sure enough, a week later kid #3 brought home a letter that stated she was getting an F and required to go to tutoring every afternoon the following week.

Poor kid had to go to school and then tutoring from 7:10 am until 4:30 pm every day last week. It paid off, because the first grade report came home Friday and she had a C- in math.

Is it too soon to start applying to colleges?

Sh*t I Don’t Miss About My Husband, Part I

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The last time I saw my attorney, she suddenly looked up from the papers we were reviewing and asked, “Do you miss him?”

With no thought at all, my mouth said, “NO.”

It’s the cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die truth.  I don’t miss a single thing about the man I was married to for 23 and a half years.  And that’s a little bit sad.

I don’t miss the lies.  Big lies, little lies, dark lies, white lies, and stupid lies.  I got to the point that I didn’t believe a word out of his mouth unless I could independently verify it.  And that continues even more so now.

I don’t miss walking on eggshells all the time.  I never knew what would set him off, and not in the way you’re probably thinking.  He wasn’t outwardly violent, he was pouty and snippy.  I had a mental list of things to avoid, but he added new stuff that upset him to the list regularly and it was impossible to keep up.

I don’t miss feeling like I was bats**t crazy.  On a daily basis, we had an exchange that went something like this:

Me:  Did you do XYZ?

Him:  No.  Why?

Me:  Yesterday/last week/last month you said you’d do XYZ on your way to/from work.

Him:  Really?  I don’t remember that.

I truly thought I was losing my mind.  Nope.  I was living with a passive-aggressive man whose go-to response to any request was that he didn’t see, didn’t hear, didn’t have time, didn’t remember, didn’t realize anything.

I don’t miss the physical and emotional distance.  He barely spoke to me or the kids for years.  He had to be cajoled into participating in family activities like decorating the Christmas tree.  Eventually, I gave up and just did stuff without him.  Great training for post-marriage life.

I don’t miss paying a price for everything.  If I wanted something, anything, there was always a price I had to pay to get it.  A martyred sigh.  Rolled eyes.  A whiny tirade about how he didn’t wanna.  It didn’t matter if it was his attendance at a child’s event or a ride to pick up my car from the shop, I always paid for his favors.  (And everything was a “favor.”)

I don’t miss being blamed for everything he was unhappy about.  Nothing was ever a result of his choices, actions, or inactions.  I was his scapegoat.

I know that Voldemort suffered from depression and had several major depressive episodes during our marriage.  It took a long time for me to understand that he was also a textbook passive-aggressive personality.  No doubt I was a co-dependent personality.  About six years ago, I took that bull by the horns and quit feeding his monster.  I drew boundaries and defended them.  I worked to define myself as a separate person, one not responsible for his failings.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.

It’s gotten much better with him gone.  Now I don’t take his passive-aggression personally.  I don’t feed it.  I don’t own it.

And I don’t miss it.

I’ve finally reached that phase of the divorce process where I know it’s really over and I no longer regret choosing to marry Voldemort all those years ago.  I’m starting to feel truly free, to believe I can make choices and plans without paying a price to him.  I don’t have to answer to him or placate him any longer.

With that freedom comes amazing peace and possibilities, things I never thought to experience again and certainly not as the result of such a painful ending.

If you are woman, you are wonderful

3kids2cats1divorce:

Amazing, uplifting, and an awesome reminder, whether you’re walking through darkness or light right now.

Originally posted on You have my word.:

One. Do not try and be older before you have been young.

Two. Be true. Don’t spend time reading magazines that fill half their pages with how to lose all that weight to be a better you, and the other half trying to convince you that you already are. The only person who can really make you happy is you.

Three. It’s ok that you’re afraid of spiders. And of tomorrow. It’s ok that you’re afraid of failing and being alone. It’s ok that you’re even afraid of admitting you’re afraid. Don’t let fear stop you moving your feet.

Four. Do not fret about the fact that you talk more than men, or that you cry more than men or that your thighs sometimes touch because you eat more chocolate than men. Those curves are gorgeous. The tears will dry, and get this – women smile more than men too…

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Meditation: You’re Doing It Right

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I’ve read a lot of posts by bloggers frustrated because they can’t meditate right. Or it just doesn’t “work” for them. I had the same experience for many years. And there’s a lot of money being made convincing us that there’s a single way to meditate or even a “best” way to meditate.

Lies. All damn lies.

The “best” and only way to meditate is whatever works for you.

Thoughts roll through your mind, seemingly endlessly? Completely normal. We have in excess of 60,000 thoughts every day. So, yeah, a few are going to flitter in at inconvenient times. As davidji says, “Let your thoughts be like clouds passing through. You be unconcerned.”

Life still stuck in neutral, or worse stuck in the gear of “suck”? Completely normal and incredibly frustrating. I’ve been meditating daily for almost three years and I’ve found that the effects of meditation are cumulative. Events that made me lose my s**t three years ago are a little easier to handle. Some are easier than others. Sure, there are multiple factors influencing my ability to tolerate stupidity or unfairness, but I attribute staying calm internally in a lot of situations to my meditation practice.

Still not convinced? Here’s a TED Talk about the importance of simply allowing yourself to be still for 10 minutes a day:

Seriously, whatever needs your attention or has to be worried about will still be there in 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes are going to pass no matter what you do with them. It’s up to you to consciously decide how to use them. Quit worrying about your thought bubbles, focus on your breath, and just float here and now for a few minutes.

I even use the “ohm” mantra sometimes. Totally works for me.

In The Remedial Class on Forgiveness

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I’ve been separated for two and a half years, and neck-deep in the legal process of divorce for 12 months. I’ve wrestled with the idea of forgiving Voldemort pretty much every one of those 750+ days.

He was the first thought I had every morning for months. The last thought I had before sleep, too. These weren’t nice thoughts. In the very beginning, I was worried he was suicidal, later I simply wished for vengeance.

I read about forgiveness. I meditated on forgiveness and compassion. I’ve had a couple of a-ha moments when I’ve forgiven him in my heart for very specific things. But I’m still angry, resentful, and hurt. I still feel he made a choice and paid no price for it.

What I realized recently, though, is that he’s no longer the first or last thought I have every day. And I think that change is due partly because of time and distance, but mostly it’s because our lives are finally becoming untangled.

Once the house is sold (please for the love of all that’s holy, let the house sell soon), a huge component of our partnership is gone.

That’s a relief.

We seem to be reaching an end to the settlement negotiations finally, so our legal partnership will be severed.

The more time, distance, and resolution I receive, the more I’m able to move forward with action on my needs, my wants, my hopes. Not having to deal with his colossal mess will allow me a true fresh start.

And I’m hopeful that having that distance will make forgiveness more available. At a minimum, I’d like to get to a place where I’m not actively resenting him. That’s just not part of the life in front of me.

Lost in a Book

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I’m a lifelong voracious reader. I’d rather read a book than do just about any other leisure activity. I’m not even going to pretend that I’m engaging in a slow perusal of high-brow classics — I like urban fantasy, mystery, paranormal romance, thrillers, and even the occasional non-fiction offering. No Jane Austen here.

I used to do a monthly blog post of mini-reviews of the books I’d read the previous month and that was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, last August when I was served with divorce papers, I developed a terrible side effect. I found I could no longer focus my mind enough to read.

When I needed it most, I couldn’t read.

And when I tried, assuming I could get past that one paragraph I’d read over and over and over again, I hated the stories. I found that nothing held my interest; the characters were insipid; the plots ridiculous.

It wasn’t the books.

It was me.

Spending so much time completely immersed in the legal process of divorce and its requirement to think about and deal with Voldemort, I was unable to escape the emotional aftereffects and simply enjoy a good book. This lasted about six very long months.

Once the settlement meeting and moving to a new home were behind me, I became more relaxed and was able to actually read a book again. I still hated a lot of what I read and wasn’t sure if the stories were lacking or if I was still stuck in a pissy, judgmental place.

As time passed, I’ve been able to reclaim my love of reading. I’ve once again found my equilibrium and can absolutely discern when I’m just not in the mood for a particular story versus a story that isn’t well written. It’s a relief and a joy to open my Kindle (587 books waiting to be read!) or go to the library (thousands of choices!). I once again crave the simple pleasure of being lost in a book for an hour or a day.

Marriage may not last forever, but books are lifelong friends. Have you lost or given up an activity you really loved during stressful times? Did you ever go back to it? Did you discover something new? And how did you handle the stress without your favorite hobby?

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